Whether he’s replacing one legendary singer or celebrating the life of another, Tim “Ripper” Owens is simply doing what he was born to do. Boasting some of the most insane chops in heavy metal that have him steering down a similar path to greatness, Owens could easily be placed on a short list of today’s vocalists based on his work in Beyond Fear, Iced Earth, and Charred Walls of the Damned — or with guitar virtuoso Yngwie Malmsteen and All-Star tribute band Hail!. His solo work ain’t too shabby, either. Check out his Play My Game album.
But Owens was put on a broader map within the metal community when he took over for Rob Halford in Judas Priest from 1996-2003. Heck, Ripper’s time as the Priest’s frontman inspired the 2001 movie “Rock Star.” How many musicians can say that? The film starred Mark Wahlberg, Jennifer Aniston and various metal musicians including Dokken, Dio and Foreigner bassist Jeff Pilson and current Alter Bridge singer Myles Kennedy (view clip here) — although Owens isn’t exactly thrilled with the finished product.
Though Owens continues to juggle musical adventures, he cast all of them aside after being asked to keep alive the legacy of the late Ronnie James Dio. After Dio lost his battle to stomach cancer on May 16, 2010, in Houston, Wendy Dio and some of Dio’s bandmates decided his music should live on in concert.
The end result is the Dio Disciples. The group will make its San Antonio debut with an hour-long set during the South Texas Rock Fest on Oct. 8 at Sunken Garden Theater (details at bottom). Owens and Toby Jepson (Fastway) share vocal duties with veteran bassist Rudy Sarzo and longtime Dio members Craig Goldy on guitar, Scott Warren on keyboards and Simon Wright behind the drums.
Three days after that performance, Charred Walls of the Damned releases its second album Cold Winds On Timeless Days. Two days after that, Owens embarks on a tour with Malmsteen — with whom he’s released two albums and covered songs ranging from Ozzy Osbourne’s “Mr. Crowley” to Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.”
For good measure, Owens is part-owner of The Tap House restaurant in his native Akron, Ohio. Ripper, who turns 44 on Sept. 13, phoned me over the weekend:
Q: We’re all looking forward to Dio Disciples coming to the South Texas Rock Fest. When was the last time you played San Antonio, and do you have any special memories?
A: I do, I have a memory of Sunken Gardens, playing there. I was with Judas Priest and had some friends there. It was just a great time, hanging out backstage. One of my buddies, Omar Uresti from the PGA Tour, had a nice polo golf shirt on, and Glenn went over and started to sign it. And the guy’s facial expression started changing. I could tell it was a real expensive shirt. I just can’t forget this guy’s face. It was like, “I know you’re Glenn Tipton and all, but . . .” Glenn started writing on his nipple. It was pretty funny. I look forward to it and seeing some friends. Hopefully, Omar can come out again. He lives in Austin.
Q: When this was starting to come together, did you approach the guys or vice versa?
A: Vice versa. I think the basic thing was Ronnie and I were — obviously, Wendy manages me. Knowing in her mind, when they were starting to get a singer, we wanna do Ronnie’s legacy good and celebrate his music, not try to be Ronnie or anything. With us being friends and me being one of his favorite singers, it was a no-brainer. We’re all friends and started throwing ideas around. We want to keep the live experience.
Q: So it was a situation where even though you’ve got so much going on with other bands, you said, “I’ll drop everything?”
A: That’s exactly what it is. People don’t understand. We don’t need to do it. I want to do it. I’m touring with Hail! Touring with Yngwie. The point is I wanna do it. That’s the point with everyone in the band.
Q: Simon and Craig played on Play My Game, right? So that probably helped.
A: Simon and Rudy played on the most songs.
Yeah, they did, and I know the guys. James LoMenzo (ex-White Lion and Megadeth bassist), who played the (Dio Disciples) shows in Europe, filled in before with Hail! So we all knew each other.
Q: How often did your paths cross with Ronnie? Did you tour with him?
A: I did, I toured on a couple of his Heaven and Hell tours in Europe. And then there was a solo run I did with Simon on drums, David Ellefson on bass and Christopher Caffery on guitars. I was fortunate to tour with him, and it was an honor. I learned a lot from him.
Q: If you could pick one Dio song that you feel epitomized his legacy, what would it be?
A: Wow! One song (pause). I think “Heaven and Hell.” My favorite material is probably his own, his Dio stuff. But that song has a little bit of everything in it.
Q: I had the pleasure of interviewing Doro Pesch three weeks ago (see link at bottom), who of course filled in for you at three shows in Spain. She told me how nervous she was, wanting to do so good for Ronnie and for the fans. It hit me that this is a veteran rock star who’s been in the business for 25 years, and yet she still felt that way because of the emotion involved and what Ronnie meant to her. Did you have similar feelings of nerves your first couple gigs?
A: Well, you always do, but my goal is to sing as good as I can no matter what I’m doing. Listen, for me, I’m celebrating Ronnie’s music, so it’s not as hard. I’m not replacing him. I had to replace Rob Halford. Basically, if I go up and sing the songs like I can and should, I should be alright. Doro’s great. She came in and did fabulous. She came out to one of the earlier shows, in Hamburg, I think, and she jumped up on stage. She’s a wonderful person and so professional.
Q: What is your favorite band or project you’ve been involved in?
A: My solo stuff and Beyond Fear. Touring solo is great because I can just go, and there’s a band waiting for me, and you get to show up and sing. I love doing my solo stuff.
Q: I have an Iced Earth question for you. I know Jon Schaffer wrote most of the lyrics on The Glorious Burden, but with the 10th anniversary of 9/11 coming up, is there any extra meaning behind “When The Eagle Cries” or a story you can share from the making of that tune?
A: Doing that video. It’s a wonderful video. If there’s anybody who hasn’t seen it, they should. Sitting in that fake rubble and singing those lyrics, it was pretty amazing.
Q: I was excited to learn you had joined Yngwie in 2008, though he usually only lasts one or two albums with the same singer. What happened in your case?
A: I’m still with Yngwie.
Q: Oh, really? I had read where you said you didn’t know about his Relentless album coming out with you on it, so it sounded like you weren’t in the band anymore.
A: I had been asked in an interview about Yngwie releasing an album, and I didn’t know about it. The songs that were left after Perpetual Flame (in 2008) weren’t actually leftovers. They were extra material. I actually like Relentless better than Perpetual Flame. But Yngwie releases a lot of instrumentals, so I didn’t know if those songs were going to be released. I actually leave the Dio Disciples tour and go on tour with Yngwie.
Q: Great, will that be coming here?
A: Let’s see, I’ve got an itinerary here. We’ve got Houston and Dallas right now. It’s kind of a two-way street with him. They don’t really promote Yngwie’s stuff. When you read press releases about it, they don’t say that I’m singing for him. But I love Yngwie. I love being with him, hanging out with him, watching him play guitar and singing for him. But the band is called Yngwie Malmsteen.
Q: When you were in Priest, how hard was it on you as the rumors kept building regarding Rob’s return, and the rest of the guys doing interviews and being asked about him?
A: Well, I knew it was going to happen someday, but everyone around me was so professional in the way they handled it. The band and I, we’re friends, you know. Listen, the proof was in the pudding when I got on stage and I could sing the material. Now when you look back after all these years, if you compare Jugulator and Nostradamus, I think Jugulator is better. But Rob is the man. I understand that, and I knew it was going to come. And to tell you the truth, I was actually alright with it coming. I tour more and do more stuff in my life now. But if I hadn’t done Priest, I wouldn’t be doing some of the stuff I do now, either.
To me it was the best of both worlds, with you filling in and doing great with the rest of the guys, and Rob bringing us another side of his music that we normally don’t get to hear.
Well, thank you. The funny thing is, Rob and I are friends, and the press hasn’t gotten us to tear each other apart. They’ve tried, though.
Well, I would never do that to ya (laughing). In fact, I interviewed Rob in December 2009 right after his Christmas album came out and asked him if he had recommended you for the gig. But I came to find out that wasn’t quite right.
No, you know, I never actually met Rob until I was in Priest. It was Scott Travis actually.
Q: So what do you think of K.K.’s departure? When was the last time you saw him or spoke with him?
A: You know, it’s just one of those things. I’d rather see him in the band. Hopefully, it will work out one day, and everything will be hunky-dory. I’m glad everyone’s happy and Ken’s happy. They’ve had this so-called last tour, but they’re not really advertising it as such anymore, and maybe that has to do with Ken not being there. I don’t know. Maybe someday it’ll work out again, and they’ll make another record (with him) or go out again. I saw him in Manchester, England, a few months back, maybe in June, at one of the Dio Disciples shows.
Q: I’m sure you get asked about “Rock Star” a lot, but you are the best authority to critique the movie. Your thoughts?
A: Ah, you know, it’s a movie. Originally it was going to be based on me. It just didn’t work out. We couldn’t see eye-to-eye on stuff. It was alright, but it could’ve been a lot better. Unfortunately, they have to do the Hollywood stuff, and it doesn’t always work out.
Q: I asked social media followers who are fans of yours if they had any questions to submit. One of them wants to know if you’ve had any vocal lessons or if you are self-taught?
A: I’m pretty much self-taught, but I did some high school singing in a choir. I was fortunate to have some good choir teachers in school. I read up on it for different exercises to do and as far as the best way to take care of that.
Q: What can you tell me about the Charred Walls of the Damned album?
A: It’s a great album, and it’s ready to come out. I know there’s a song already out on the Internet. You know what, I gotta tell you, it came out even much better than I thought it would. When you make an album, you’re not quite sure. I’m doing vocals (in the studio), but sometimes the melodies aren’t there, not everything’s there as you’re doing it.
Well I thought you did great covers of Powermad’s “Nice Dreams” with Charred Walls and “Mr. Crowley” with Yngwie. Your shriek on the intro to “Mr. Crowley” is priceless.
Yeah, good ol’ Mr. Crowley!
Thanks, Ripper, for taking the time. If I ever make it to Akron, the Tap House will be the first place where I grab a bite to eat.
Yes, you gotta come to the Tap House! It’s a good ol’ rocking place.
In the meantime, I hope to thank you in person and shake hands here at the Rock Fest.
Absolutely, come say hi. Take care.
- WHAT: South Texas Rock Fest
- WHO: Dio Disciples, UFO, Saxon, Quiet Riot, Moxy, Stephen Pearcy, Warrant, Pretty Boy Floyd and more. View lineup and schedule here.
- WHEN: Oct. 7-8
- WHERE: Sunken Garden Theater (3875 N. St. Mary’s St.)
- TICKETS: $35-$250 at H-E-B locations and Flipside Records; more info here.
- OF NOTE: Dio Disciples’ U.S. tour dates, with more to come, are as follows:
- 9/22/2011 Poughkeepsie, NY The Chance
- 9/23/2011 Asbury Park, NJ Stone Pony
- 9/24/2011 Springfield, VA Jaxx
- 9/26/2011 Buffalo, NY Town Ballroom
- 9/27/2011 Pittsburgh, PA Altar Bar
- 9/28/2011 Cleveland, OH House of Blues
- 9/29/2011 Chicago, IL House of Blues
- 9/30/2011 Medina, MN Medina Entertainment Center
- 10/6/2011 Baton Rouge, LA Varsity Theatre
- 10/7/2011 Houston, TX Scout Bar
- 10/8/2011 San Antonio, TX Sunken Gardens
- 10/9/2011 Dallas, TX Trees
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